Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TBR Day. Marry in Haste / Lynn Kerstan. 1998.

This month's theme in Keishon's TBR Challenge is "thanksgiving." I carefully looked through my inventory of books and I couldn't find one that matched the theme. But with Thanksgiving around the corner here in the US, I wanted to do something that would at least acknowledge the theme. So I chose this book and I'll explain my thinking at the end of the review.

I first read Lynn Kerstan back in 2003 when I began reading romance again. I loved The Golden Leopard so much that I even briefly considered putting it in my Winsor List last month. Anyhow, back in the day I ordered a bunch of her old Regency traditionals and they ended up stashed away in the closet all this time. It was time to bring them out.

Marry in Haste is the story of Diana Whitney, a young woman and substantial heiress living with her chaperone at an old manor in the country. With the assistance of the Earl of Kendal (hero of an earlier book), she is in hiding from her uncle (and legal guardian) who is determined to see her wed to a nasty man she doesn't want to marry. The manor actually belongs to Alex Valliant, the Earl's younger brother who is in the army and presumed to be out of the country. In fact, Alex has returned to England and when he winds up at his manor a minor scandal ensues and Alex offers to marry Diana. She doesn't want to marry someone she barely knows even though she's attracted to him and she turns him down. But when the evil uncle shows up to force Diana to come home she ends up accepting Alex's offer.

Let me just say up front that this is a lovely, lovely story of two people forced by circumstance to marry and then learn to live with and love one another. I loved both characters. They are, in their own way, rather shy people, so neither of them express their feelings well. But they are also strong and determined. Diana in particular works hard to overcome her fears and stand up for herself. They quickly fall in love with one another, but because they don't know how to talk to each other only the reader knows how they feel. Meanwhile, they settle into a chaste marriage. Alex doesn't want to touch Diana until she's "ready" and she doesn't know how to tell Alex that she is ready.

We watch Diana and Alex get to know one another as Diana becomes involved with a group of poor women in the area near their home who are barely making a living. She needs Alex's help as she finds a way for them to earn money for their families and Alex teaches her leadership principles he learned in the army. The ladies become "Diana's Regiment" and through this work Diana and Alex learn to appreciate one another's strengths and gifts. Kerstan writes beautifully...there were moments that made me laugh out loud and moments that made me weepy. There's great emotion in this little book.

For a traditional Regency, this is a pretty atypical book. Only the last 7 pages take place in London; the bulk of it takes place in Lancashire, with a brief trip to Gretna Green. And while Alex is a character who saw plenty of military action, it is Diana who bears a disfiguring scar. That scar is part of what makes her so timid. While Alex initially comes across as autocratic and arbitrary, he ends up deferring to Diana's wishes in the face of her determination to help the abandoned and widowed women around her. Making Diana happy quickly becomes very important to Alex.

After last month's TBR disappointment, I'm happy to say that I highly recommend this one. It was republished as a Signet two-fer in 2005 and you may be able to get your hands on it. Do so if you can. Hopefully Kerstan's backlist will make it into ebook form one of these days.

Kerstan's last book was published in 2005. According to her website, she was in the middle of a trilogy when her publisher decided not to print the last book in the series. Kerstan participates in a group blog with 5 other authors called Story Broads. It was there I learned earlier this year that Kerstan has recently survived a very close call with cancer. She has blogged about it some and so I decided to express my thankfulness that she is still with us and continuing to get better. I don't know if she is still writing or trying to get published again. Selfishly, I hope she is. But mostly I hope she has many more years to live life on her terms, whatever those may be. And if we don't get any new books from Lynn, well, I am very thankful to have a couple more of her backlist in my TBR pile, including the 1996 RITA award-winner, Gwen's Christmas Ghost, co-written with Alicia Rasley.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

25 Years of Quilting -- Baby Quilts

I was in my late 20s when I started quilting, and not surprisingly, many of my friends & relatives were busy popping out babies. Naturally, as a quilter I wanted to supply baby quilts. But back in those days I only worked by hand and it took me about 6 months to crank out a quilt. I wish I could have gifted more of my friends and family with baby quilts, but it simply wasn't possible. Here are 3 of the half dozen I made between 1986 and 1990. (Sorry if the images are fuzzy; these are scanned photos.)

But by 1995 I had a new sewing machine and I was putting tops together within a matter of weeks and learning how to use my walking foot to machine quilt straight lines across a quilt. When a co-worker and very close friend found herself pregnant with twins I actually managed to crank out 2 quilts AND finish them within weeks of the twins' birth.
Check out the Elvis fabric in this first one. My friend is a huge Elvis fan. The old world map fabric in the 2nd quilt was to celebrate her husband's Peace Corps experience. I had such fun with these. And I know they were well-loved.

While working on the twins' quilts I unexpectedly became pregnant myself. That was such a shocker, not only to me, but to my friends & family. And my generous quilting friends saw to it that we were ourselves gifted with 4 quilts. That was a good thing because my job & an infant kept me so busy that for the first 2 years I did very little quilting and then I eased back in very slowly as I finally learned to carve out time for myself.

And these days when I want to provide a baby quilt, I know how to make it quick and simple, yet still have fun with the design. This is from April of 2008.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

UFO Challenge Ends. So, how'd I do?

At our guild meeting Thursday night, the 2009 UFO Challenge officially came to an end. I turned in a list of 28 UFOs (UnFinished Objects) that I thought I had a chance I'd work on. I finished 8. On the one hand, that's pretty pathetic. On the other hand, I kept starting other new projects. One woman in our guild reported that she spent over $900 to pay a long-arm quilter to finish her UFOs. I can at least report that I did all the work myself. But there are times I'm darned tempted to pass all those unfinished tops on to a long-armer.

So anyway, here is the 8th and final quilt for this year's challenge. It is totally hand pieced and hand quilted. It's been a long time since I made anything completely by hand. I started it back in 1995 when I taught a small class of women in my church how to quilt. I taught them some simple hand piecing methods and we made this 4-patch sampler. I started quilting it by hand a couple of years ago, but began to seriously work on it for the challenge. I finished it Thursday night at the meeting, just in time to show it off.

The challenge coordinator said we're going to do it again in 2010, starting in January. Maybe I'll be a little more realistic when I put together my list.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from October

My Phillies have just lost the World Series. But October was a fabulous month as they made their run this far and I have to admit I enjoyed baseball more than reading. But I did manage to pick up a few books to occupy my time between games.

5. Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas. The latest offering in the Hathaway family series was a fun, enjoyable read. Kleypas rarely fails to deliver, although this won’t be among my very favorites by her. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed the way Harry Rutledge manipulated events to get the woman he wanted, even though it took him awhile to realize he was in love with Poppy. However, I did think that for a man as jaded and closed off as Harry, his transformation to happy family man was a little too quick. I’m looking forward to Leo’s story next. That one looks fun.

4. A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr. I continue to enjoy this series and the full cast of characters in Virgin River. Once again we have a widowed heroine and a hero hiding from the world after serving in Iraq. While many of the tropes are the same, this book did have a different feel than the other 4 I’ve now read in the series. That different feel is the result of the fact that the book focused more on Ian and Marcie and not so much on the rest of the Virgin River cast. I enjoyed Marcie’s persistence—she was going to get Ian to listen to her come hell or high water.

3. Black at Heart by Leslie Parrish. This was the third book in Parrish’s Black Cats series and the hero is the namesake of the FBI team, Wyatt Blackstone. The heroine is Lily, a former member of the team who presumably died at the end of the 2nd book, Pitch Black. This book lacks the suspense of the previous two. It also shouldn’t be read without reading the first two. But it works very well as Wyatt and Lily’s relationship changes while they solve the mystery of what happened to Lily. There’s room here for more books and I think Parrish does romantic suspense very well. I hope we see more Black Cats books in the future.

2. Black Silk by Judith Ivory. Well, I wrote about it just the other day. It was hard to decide whether to make this number 1 or 2, but I think it lost points on that bit where Submit decides to run off to America.

1. The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter. In the books leading up to this one, Easterbrook is painted as an autocratic recluse. At long last we learn why he is such a recluse and I really loved the premise of this book. It was not at all what I expected. And like the previous books, this one has a strong heroine in Leona Montgomery. There’s a very interesting subplot in the book about the opium trade as well. Like many other readers, I did feel this was the strongest book in the series and very enjoyable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Black Silk / Judith Ivory. 2002

Not long ago, Jessica mentioned on her blog that she was going to post a review of Judith Ivory’s Black Silk. A few commenters mentioned how they were looking forward to the review. I have to admit, that got me curious. I’d heard of this book, but couldn’t remember where or what. So I looked it up at AAR and found quite a compelling DIK review of the book by Sherry Thomas. Naturally, I had to see for myself what all of the fuss was about, so I reserved Black Silk from the library and finished it up this week.

Oh my. There’s no way I can do this book justice.

If you love words, if you love rich, evocative prose that delivers you into another time and place, this book is for you. It is not meant to be read quickly, but slowly and thoroughly. That means sticking through the first part of the book with its long descriptive passages. There's not much action at first, but the setup is used so effectively to reveal the personalities and characters of the protagonists, Graham Wessit and his cousin-by-marriage, Submit Channing-Downes.

That means if you crave action, this book is not for you. It is a purely character-driven book. Submit had had a happy marriage with Henry Channing-Downes, a man some 30 or 40 years her senior. She was 16 when she married him and is nearing 30 now. Graham had been Henry’s ward and Henry and Graham had had nothing but contempt for one another. Submit and Graham have polar opposite opinions of Henry but are brought together because of an unusual bequest in Henry’s will. Submit is studious, sober, and intent on fulfilling Henry's wishes by delivering the bequest. Graham is fun-loving, flighty, and while intent on having no part of that bequest, he does find himself intrigued by Submit. As a widow, Submit is in mourning, dressed in black (hence the name of the book), while Graham wears brightly colored vests, decorated with multiple watches and chains, as well as multiple rings on his fingers. Ivory spends a lot of time using their wardrobes as metaphors for their personalities. It was brilliantly done.

If you love witty, sharp dialogue, this book is for you. Graham and Submit are in turn challenged and frustrated by one another. They disagree on many things and underestimate on another. It makes for some interesting conversation when they are together.

If you want your romance to take a traditional course where boy meets girl and immediately forsakes all others, this book is not for you. Throughout at least 3/4 of the book, Graham keeps a mistress and she is a central character to the story. While Graham is becoming more and more intrigued by and attracted to Submit, he is still involved with his mistress. This violates one of those unwritten taboos in the genre, which for me made the book all the more interesting because it did so. (That taboo being that once the hero meets the heroine he stays out of any other woman's bed.)

I loved how Graham is revealed to be much more serious and responsible than he appears to be in the beginning. And when Submit is given a taste of independence and freedom she embraces the idea that she--a woman in a male-dominated society--can have a much richer life than she had imagined. She discovers she can earn her own way and she is excited by the thought.

But that does bring me to my one complaint. I won’t be specific for fear of spoilers. At the very end of the book, just before she and Graham get together, Submit makes a choice that seemed so very out of character, especially since she had embraced her independence. Why would she make such a choice? Suddenly she is running away to America, and that runs counter to all that had come before. It struck me as the author adding conflict for the sake of conflict.

Fortunately, and naturally, all’s well that ends well. And I found it an enchanting journey. Black Silk was my first Ivory. I must read more. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this one and can’t wait to see some discussion about it over at Jessica’s, or maybe over here where Lusty Reader read it, but did NOT like it. I'm hoping we'll hear why.